For the longest time, I thought that I will end up marrying a white man, because I was quite a strong Feminist in my young age and I could not see myself adopting the kind of submissive behavior that some African men still expect from their wives. Especially concerning house chores. You are not around when dinner is served? Just consider warming your food yourself, Mister! You are tired from work? I was out all day working too, so?
I ended up marrying a Nigerian man, and warming food for him! But living in Nigeria, where house employment is financially more affordable than in Europe or America, it is easier for me to get help for the laundry, the ironing, the cooking and compared to the average French women or English women, I don’t think I am short-changed in that field.
But, basically, I am living a status quo because, as much as I don’t like a lot of tasks I still get to do, I have not yet find a way to get out of those chores without getting out of my marriage!
I was listening to a French radio the other day, and the topic of the day was “equity between French men and women concerning house chores”. As I suspected, French men spent far less time doing chores than their wives. And it is not just an assumption, those affirmations are based on serious statistics from the French Institute of Statistics and Economical studies (INSEE).
Some men will argue that they take care of the lawn or wash the car, but is it everyday? Some woman actually enjoy cooking (but everyday?) and cleaning (but everyday?) and I know that some will say that the woman role in the house is a beautiful one, and I agree with the fact that, as a woman, you want your home to be as warm and comforting as possible, but nobody will make me like house chores or think they must be the wife responsibility. When a man is not married and is living out of his parents house, he takes care of his house chores himself. So, why will he transfer all the burden to his wife once he gets married?
Why should the boring and repetitive tasks be left to women? I agree that marriage is more than a give and take situation but for it to work there must be some kind of balance. An equilibrium which, except perhaps in scandinavian countries, can hardly be found anywhere in the world. So, white man, black man, it doesn’t change anything to the fact that women of all colors are still taken advantage of. In some countries, however, their rights are better protected.
I recently read an interesting interview granted in 2000 by Maryse Condé, a famous Caribbean novelist. She was not exactly talking about mixed marriages or gender equity but she made an interesting point about races in marriage. Please, read the excerpt below:
Maryse Condé: Grand dame of Caribbean literature
The celebrated author speaks openly of her new book, passion and politics with Elizabeth Nunez, a leading literary light from Trinidad.
Elizabeth Nunez: I was very moved by a talk you gave two years ago about growing up in Guadeloupe and thinking of yourself as no different from a French person. Could you talk about why it was important for you to go to Africa?
Maryse Condé: Elisabeth, I remember when I took you to a restaurant in Guadeloupe how surprised and shocked you were to see that all the cooks and waiters were white, French people. So imagine what it was like growing up in Guadeloupe some years back. The teachers in the schools were French. The priests, when we went to Mass with our families, were white. We lived in a complete white, French environment. It seemed normal to me. I did not ask any questions. Of course, when I looked at my face in the mirror I could see that I was black, but for me, colour was totally unimportant. I felt I was exactly like the people around me, that is to say, French and WHITE. Then when I went to France I discovered that the colour of my skin meant something. It was not an accident that I was black. There was a deep difference between me and the people whose skin was white. I had to go to Africa to discover the meaning and importance of that difference.
Elizabeth Nunez: And what did you discover?
Maryse Condé: At the beginning I thought the difference was that black people had a common culture that was different from the culture of French people. I believed that all black people were united by a common origin, a common history. We were basically one people divided by the evils of slavery. I, who was born in Guadeloupe, was separated from the people in Guinea, where I was in Africa, simply because of the slave trade.
Elizabeth Nunez: Do you think differently now?
Maryse Condé: I made an important discovery in Africa: I did not share the same language as the people in Guinea. We did not eat the same food –- This may seem trivial to you, but it is important. We did not dress the same way, we did not enjoy the same type of music, we did not share the same religion. In a few months, I found myself terribly isolated. I could not even communicate with my Guinean husband. So I made a second discovery: race, in fact, is not the essential factor. What is important is culture. As I did not share the culture of the Guinean people, of the African people, I left Africa, and, as a result, my marriage ended.
Elizabeth Nunez: Then would it be fair to say that culturally there are now more similarities between you and your husband, Richard Philcox, though he is white and British, than there were between you and your first husband, though he was black and African?
Maryse Condé: When I met Richard twenty years ago, I was in my period of political activism and I could not see myself with a white man. My children, also, were very nationalistic and so they were shocked and disturbed that I would be involved with a white man. But eventually I came to understand that the color of one’s skin does not matter. I found that a white man was closer to me than my first husband, even closer to me than the majority of the people I knew. It is a matter of understanding: in a word, love. Marriage should not be viewed as part of a political agenda. It concerns the feelings and personal choices of two people.
This is an excerpt from a very interesting interview in The UNESCO Courier, Maryse Condé: ”race is not primordial” (November 2000) that you can find p. 46 here.